I participated in the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages for Spanish in Oviedo, Spain during the summer of 2009. To say that the trip was amazing is an understatement. When I returned home, I found it so difficult to try to explain to my friends and family just how wonderful, academically challenging, and unique the experience was. I hope that I can provide a glimpse into my trip for those interested and considering participating in it.
Like I said before, I was placed in the Oviedo program site in Spain. After I received an e-mail stating this, I wanted to research everything about it! I looked at pictures and researched it on the Internet; I even started checking the weather to know what to pack. Oviedo is a really neat city because it is a college town, so there are always things to do, but the city still retains its beautiful historical aspects. A student placed in Oviedo may not get a beachside vacation, but Oviedo is a beautiful city nestled among the breathtaking northern mountains of the Asturias region of Spain. Meanwhile, there is a beach about 30 minutes away from Oviedo named Gijón that is a tourist spot for many.
The main reason students go on the Honors Program is to improve their Spanish skills–reading, speaking, comprehension, etc. Our classes were held at the Escuela Universitaria P. Enrique de Osso; this is the university in Oviedo. Our classrooms were small, as were the class sizes. Since it was just a small group of us, we were able to work together and felt more comfortable learning as a whole.
While classes are extremely important to the whole experience, there are so many fun things to do in Oviedo! I don’t think that there was a day that I didn't take a picture of something, whether it be the city, my friends, or my host family. I wanted to take photos of everything so that I might capture the memories of my trip. I made several new friends during the Program and spent most of my time with them when I wasn't in class–but even then we all were able to be together. We often simply explored the city looking for new places to hang out or things to do. It was fun to just be in the city and wander around; it was almost as if we had our own show on the Travel Channel. However, one of my favorite places to be was el Parque de San Francisco. My friends and I spent a lot of time there either enjoying a siesta, eating new foods, checking out the peacocks, or soaking up the Spanish sun.
Once July came around the corner, my friends and I moved from the park to the stores. In July, they have this wonderful thing called rebajas or sales. We all waited, or at least tried to wait, until July to go shopping because the items were anywhere from 20-70% off! Needless to say, I purchased many items for family, friends, and myself.
One of the most exciting activities that our group did was go canoeing. The trail was long, but it was beautiful canoeing between the mountains. After awhile, we got out to swim and the water felt amazing! Some of us even jumped off the high bridge after lunch; that in itself was an incredible (and scary) experience! Overall, that was one of my favorite memories.
Our group went on three excursions during the Program. The first was to the village of Covadonga and the mountain range Picos de Europa. That excursion was a lot of fun because it was our first, and we were all so excited to see everything. I was able to get some breathtaking pictures of the mountains and scenery during the excursion. After a while, we visited a fountain where it is said that if you drank from the water, you will be married by the next time you returned to Oviedo. While the water was probably not sanitary, I drank in hopes that I’d be married before I return to Europe. Another excursion that we took was to the city of León. This trip was optional, and a small group of students, including myself, chose to go. I enjoyed this excursion a lot because we rode a train there and back, which I had never done before. I met a really friendly older man and spoke with him in Spanish on the way to León. Two of our instructors were with us, and they directed us to various sites in the city. Our last excursion was to Gijón. Many students from the group were looking forward to this trip basically because we were able to go to the beach. It was a fun excursion and it is pretty cool to say that I soaked my toes in the Bay of Biscay.
Food deserves its own paragraph. My advice to all students: try everything! Even if you think that you won't like it (or perhaps don’t like it in the United States), be open-minded and try different foods. I'm not a seafood/fish type of person, but I ended up consuming a lot of it. There was one night that my host mom decided to cook squid…with the black ink. My roommate and I agreed to try it (on the count of 3) even though we were both a little leery. While we weren't fans of the dish, we could say that we had tried it. Also, in the United States, I rarely ever eat fish due to the powerful smell. However, since Oviedo is so close to the shore, the fish markets are always full of fresh fish. I ate a lot of fish during the Program because it was so fresh, unlike the fish we pick up in the grocery stores. To this day, I miss the fish that we ate at lunch during school. Another suggestion is to try the local restaurants and cafés. European cafés are so quaint and unique. Grab some friends and go get coffee, soda, or ice cream at a café. Also, make sure to try out the ice cream kiosks near el Parque de San Francisco.
In conclusion, there are numerous reasons why I am so glad that I did the Program. First of all, I became a lot better at Spanish and was able to learn more about the Spanish culture. Taking Spanish during my senior year was a piece of cake, and I was able to test into fifth semester Spanish here at IU, leaving me just a few classes shy of a minor. Second of all, I became more experienced in my travels and was able to see more of the world. I also met some amazing people that I am still friends with to this day. After doing the Program, I realized just how much IU could offer to me and my various interests, and I decided to attend college here. Coincidently, several of the friends that I made also decided to come to IU, and it's not uncommon to run into them; one of the girls is even in my Spanish class! Another way I benefited from the Program was that I matured, became more independent, and was definitely more prepared for life after high school. The transition to college wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had thought it would be, and I think that having lived abroad for a summer helped me acclimate to IU with ease. My last word of advice to students considering IUHPFL: do it–you will not regret it! I still think back to that summer, look at my pictures, or talk to my friends and recognize that time as one of my best yet.